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Planning aims at preparation for coming Superior Street revamp
Photo: Art in the Alley owners are developing an online store to bolster revenues once Superior Street reconstruction begins.
Aging infrastructure, in some cases dating back to the 19th century, has brought plans for a revamped Superior Street in downtown Duluth to the forefront. Planners hope the concept they’re developing could advance to the construction phase by 2016.
The need to address downtown infrastructure has been recognized for some time but it’s taken several rounds of public and stakeholder input to settle on a basic streetscape design. At a fourth public meeting held early in April, developers narrowed the preferred design to one – down from four initial choices.
The city of Duluth, working with architecture and engineering consultants, plans to reconstruct Superior Street from Sixth Avenue West to Fourth Avenue East as well as address aging infrastructure below the surface. Barring some unforeseen development, planners have settled on the “district” concept for downtown’s main street, designing it a destination. It received about a two-to-one favorable nod over a second alternative – the “spine” concept, which focused on Superior Street as a connector to downtown destinations while also recognizing that the downtown main street is a destination itself, said LHB Engineering Project Manager Brad Scott, who is working as a consultant on the project.
The preferred choice features 11-foot lane widths, 11-foot turn lanes where needed, transit accommodations, parallel and diagonal parking, festival space on the north side of the street and 11- to 35- foot sidewalk widths.
During the next few weeks, Scott and his team will be tweaking and finalizing the district concept, based on the public input received. For example, while early renditions of the district concept might have reduced parking on Superior Street, the final concept will not. Parking, he said, was a major concern for stakeholders – a concern that he said planners have heard “loud and clear.”
Early June has been set as a tentative target for unveiling the preferred alternative concept design. After that, planners will update city councilors of the status of the project, hoping the city will pass a resolution of intent – needed to enter the final design phase.
Current timelines call for preliminary design throughout 2014, final design in 2015-2016 and construction beginning in the spring/summer of 2016.
Final costs of the project haven’t yet been established but developers are looking at a variety of funding sources including state aid funds and possible assessments, which are “not expected to be significant,” said Scott.
COPING WITH CONSTRUCTION
While the need to reconstruct Superior Street is widely recognized, there also is acknowledgment of the impact that the construction phase could have on downtown businesses.
Across the bridge, the reconstruction of Tower Avenue in Superior took its toll on local retailers.
The $14 million Tower Avenue project – in which street pavement, sidewalks and utilities were replaced – was largely completed last fall. But during construction, some local businesses found their front door blocked for a six-month period.
Superior’s Business Improvement District (BID) provided local merchants with a “tool kit” to help minimize the impact. That kit included maps, marketing tips, safety tips and information on the importance of having a web site during construction. Despite the efforts, however, some Tower Avenue business owners complained that the work wasn’t staged well and access was cut off for weeks while no work was being done.
Efforts to maintain better business access in Duluth already are underway.
Representatives from several organizations in the local business community have already held several meetings aimed at addressing the challenges retail business owners may face when construction begins.
Organizers plan to get best practices information out early to storefront owners and managers.
Stakeholders – including local bankers, economic developers and Superior Street business owners – have formed an alliance aimed at preparation.
Michael Lattery, director of business finance with the Entrepreneur Fund, said the focus has been one of best practices. “The strategy is an information strategy,” he said.
The University of Minnesota Center for Economic Development has been conducting information classes this spring and more will likely be offered in the fall.
One of the main areas of concern is how businesses will cope if they experience a decline in revenues during the construction period.
“If your business isn’t healthy going in to 2016, it’s going to be difficult to sustain,” said Tami LaPole Edmunds, who with her husband Dan Edmunds owns Art in the Alley, which has two stores on Superior Street.
With that concern in mind, the classes at UMD CED are focusing on planning, cash flow issues and how to diversify, said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council.
PROACTIVE APPROACHES EMERGING
Art in Alley is in the planning stages of an online store, which LaPole Edmunds refers to as a third store that will help replace lost revenue from its location at 209 E. Superior St. That location has no back or side entrance and if the sidewalk is torn up, she said, business would cease until access is restored.
The online store will have the added benefit of reaching out to tourists, which LaPole Edmunds says are many of her customers, during the off-season. They plan to have the new online store, which will feature items only available for sale online, up and running by the end of the summer.
The Greater Downtown Council also has developed a strategy aimed at downtown merchants. First Fridays, which launched in May, is an attempt to generate interest in downtown businesses. Its launch is in anticipation of construction as well as being a way “to showcase our local businesses,” Stokes said.
Participating downtown companies are being asked as part of the effort to do “something special” the first Friday of each month. That something special could include special pricing or a crosspromotional effort, where one business gives customers coupons to another.
The impact of First Fridays remains to be seen, but in the meantime, planners will continue to meet and attempt to help businesses prepare for the construction ahead.
“Everyone is very concerned,” said Lattery. “The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. Will construction happen in 2016 or will it get pushed back to 2017? How with the closures go down?”
Those planning the actual reconstruction are keenly aware of those concerns.
“We want to minimize the impact to the business district,” said Scott. “We want to make (construction) as short as possible but still maintain access during construction.”
But while concerns are abundant, there also is a strong sense that this project will provide Duluth with a revitalized downtown shopping area and be a tremendous long-term benefit.
“The beauty of this is that we get to shape our community for the next generation,” said LaPole Edmunds.Previous Construction Articles:
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